Film can’t capture betrayal that left Thatcher a forlorn figure

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From: William Snowden, Butterbowl Gardens, Leeds.

THE new, big screen biopic of Margaret Thatcher has caused controversy even before its release: art imitating life? I suspect that this works on the established principle that “all publicity is good publicity”.

But does the film reflect the depth and complexity of the subject? Early reviews would suggest not: it is reported to be a retrospective piece, which depicts Margaret Thatcher suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and doubting her former, political beliefs.

If that is so, then it is truly a distasteful work of fiction. Margaret Thatcher may be (and often is) accused of many things, but indecision and uncertainty are not among them.

She was a conviction politician, with a crystal clear vision. And, on so many levels, subsequent events have proved the validity of her beliefs, not least on Europe. This vexed subject was the source of great friction between her and the Cabinet. She was alone in resisting the centralising tenets of the “European Project”: she revisited Britain’s membership of the ERM (the precursor for the euro) until, as she so memorably revealed, “I became a minority of one in the Cabinet”.

Her critics gloat that she was “defeated” by Heseltine. She was not. She beat him, but failed (by just two votes) to gain the necessary two thirds majority to secure her victory in the leadership poll.

She was persuaded by her Cabinet “colleagues” to resign: she was told that her erstwhile supporters were “deserting in droves”. Shameful! But, as the political diarist Alan Clark astutely observed: “There are no true friends in politics; we are all sharks, circling and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water.”

And thus it was, that a recognised world leader was ultimately displaced by an ineffectual triumvirate (Major, Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke) and a “Cabinet of chums” who sleepwalked into Black Wednesday (when Britain was finally compelled to leave the ERM) and the political wilderness. Lamentable.

I met Margaret Thatcher only once when she gave a speech at Leeds Town Hall, introduced by the late Richard Whiteley. The year was 1993. A slight, fragile, doll-like figure, she captivated her audience of local dignitaries with her erudition, perception and breadth of knowledge of national and international affairs.

And yet, to me, she appeared to be a forlorn figure. The seismic shock of being betrayed and brought down by her own party was clearly evident: the bright flame had sadly waned.

I thought then, and think now, what a tragic denouement for her, the country and the world of politics. No celluloid dramatisation could possibly capture the sheer gravity of that.